In this economy, new car sales languish and dealers try to make up for lost revenue in repair and collision prices. If you aren’t careful, you could end up paying too much for these services. A recent study by AAIA shows that consumers paid $11.7 billion too much last year for parts and service!

A survey by AAA, a non-profit automobile club with more than 50 million members shows that about 10% consumers were unhappy with their most recent visit to a dealer repair facility.

Dealerships used to thrive on carmaker-paid warranty repairs, but that business has all but evaporated as quality has relentlessly and dramatically improved from all automakers during the past decade. So a battle is on for your repair dollars.

As always it pays to shop around, since the cost of individual repairs varies widely. A radiator repair — parts and labor — for an import brand was 87% higher or $665.28 at dealer compared to $311 at an independent. And a 15% difference for an air conditioning compressor — $933 dealer vs $812 independent.

Here are some helpful tips about repair work:

  • Determine what type of repair is needed. Most vehicles can be repaired and maintained by a full-service repair facility.
  • Select a repair facility you trust. Friends, relatives and co-workers are a good source of recommendations.
  • Make an appointment. If the manager knows a motorist is coming and has a rough idea of the problem, the right technician can be assigned to the job.
  • Describe the problem. Don’t tell the technician what needs to be repaired or replaced unless it’s obvious. Instead, describe the problem and its symptoms, and let the technician determine the appropriate solution.
  • Read the repair order. Be wary of blanket statements such as “check and correct transmission noise” or “fix engine;” Never sign a blank repair order.
  • Get a written estimate.